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The Passionless Party

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Posted on Jun 30, 2010
World Economic Forum / Remy Steinegger

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

One of the strangest lead sentences I have ever encountered appeared in Politico last week. It read: “John Kerry has been the most aggressive advocate of climate change legislation in the Senate this year—so aggressive that it’s rubbed some of his colleagues the wrong way.”

The story went on to say that Kerry’s “zeal” is “making some swing-vote Democrats cringe at the thought of negotiating with someone they fear is tone-deaf to the political realities of their respective states—particularly in a difficult midterm elections year.”

So there you have it: Once criticized for being too aloof and patrician, Kerry is now being assailed for daring to have passion for the cause of reducing the amount of carbon we are pumping into the atmosphere.

Note that none of this is about the legislative merits. Kerry is being criticized for caring too much about an issue and not thinking enough about an election—for being insufficiently opportunistic and unprincipled.

And Democrats wonder why the polls find an “enthusiasm gap” that suggests their supporters will sit around grumpily in November while Republicans flood the polling places.


Square, Site wide
It might help if voters saw President Obama and his party in Congress fighting for something going into these elections (including their record on health care and financial reform) rather than reacting, retrenching and retreating. Kerry’s attitude is not the problem. It’s part of the solution.

Let’s be clear: Yes, it is hard for politicians from coal states, or from states whose utilities use a lot of coal, to get enthusiastic about carbon caps. It’s also true that many of the Democrats fighting for their political lives represent rather conservative states and districts. They hear most from voters who are talking—make that yelling—about big spending, big deficits, big government. Some of their constituents even think of Obama as the Manchurian candidate.

There’s also this: If the unemployment rate were hovering around 5 percent instead of above 9 percent, and if Republicans were not intent on using the Senate to stop just about everything Democrats are trying to do, the public’s mood about Washington and how it works would be less lethal.

In the face of these core problems, there is increasing grumbling among congressional Democrats about the Obama administration’s habits. Some wonder if Obama is indifferent to their fate. Others sense that the president is far more solicitous to those who oppose him than to those who bleed for him. And many are questioning whether Obama’s lieutenants have figured out that they have not been the messaging geniuses in the White House that they seemed to be in the 2008 campaign.

On the current course, even a Republican Party whose leaders say the most outlandish and extreme things—and whose own congressional rank and file worry about their lack of a coherent program—could take back the House and make deep inroads in the Senate.

Which brings us back to Kerry, who in an interview made no apologies for his eagerness to get an energy bill. What’s striking is that he has negotiated with every industry and trade group imaginable to find a deal. If he’s passionate about this, he’s also been relentlessly practical.

And he notes that many businesses groups would prefer Congress to deal with the carbon question. “They see it coming from the EPA and regulation, and they would rather have us legislate,” he said. Kerry’s persistence is one reason why the Senate leadership and a White House with which he’s been working closely are still trying to push an energy bill through.

Someone needs to find the same pugnacious spirit on a jobs bill. Yes, crucial assistance to states that are slashing programs and raising taxes has been blocked by Republican senators—including Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine. Both prize their moderate images, but neither has been willing to break with the GOP leadership.

But either Obama and the Democrats really believe that giving the economy another shot in the arm now is essential, or they don’t. If they put no punch behind their argument, voters will have no idea that some state cutbacks or tax hikes they are worried about could be avoided if Congress were willing to act.

The Obama of 2008 understood how to define the stakes and how to rouse the faithful with both reason and passion. What happened to that guy?

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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By nemesis2010, July 4, 2010 at 2:18 pm Link to this comment

Excreta bovinus! fantastica fornicatio!

There is no significant difference between the so-called democrats and republicans. The goal is—and always has been—to maintain the status quo.

Those damn democrat Homo sapiens are just like all those other Homo sapiens; they are greedy, avaricious, abuse power, lie, cheat, steal, and murder. They are equally oppressive, bigoted, discriminatory, prejudicial, and always hold other Homo sapiens who are beneath them in the pecking order to standards that they cannot and will never adhere to. 

Change the names, the political and/or religious ideology, the race, the country, whatever, it simply doesn’t matter, it always ends up the same –no left, no middle, no right, just different levels of “Haves” and “Have Nots.”

How stupid a race are we that the few—who are greatly outnumbered—are allowed to oppress and dictate to the many.

Wealth (the few) dictates to society, rather than society (the many) dictating to wealth.

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By the worm, July 4, 2010 at 12:52 pm Link to this comment

90% of the nation’s wealth is controlled by the top 3% of the people.

This was accomplished, aided and abetted by the laws passed by Congress
favoring the wealthy.

In other words, the law has been used to ‘transfer wealth’ to the wealthy
and from the middle class.

The issue, therefore, is not whether the law ‘should be’ used to ‘transfer
wealth’ - that happens repeatedly and continuously.

The issue is: How should the law be used to transfer wealth more equitably,
from the wealth to the middle class.

$ 3,400,000,000 = Obama & Democrats’ Bailout of the Financial Industry
$    50,000,000 = Obama & Democrats’ Assistance to Families and Workers

Kerry’s scheme would allow the private sector, not the public sector, to profit
and the profits to fatten the private sector bottom line rather than be invested
in new energy sources.

The transfer continues under many guises. But Kerry’s is among the most

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By REDHORSE, July 4, 2010 at 10:46 am Link to this comment

I appreciate the insight offered by other TRUTHDIG posters into Mr. Dionnes journalistic history.

      It’s not my intention to “pile on”, and it’s not just Mr. Dionne. So many articles (not just here) offer nothing. Outside a cutesy premise they are as hollow as a drum.

      The poet Robert Bly, descibes ours, as an age of the great “non-event”, where real passion and adult action are promised, and are intentionally not delivered. Then, the event is applauded, as if something real has occured.

      Ours, has indeed become, an age of hollow men and straw dog politicians.

        Thanks for not rolling over!! Happy 4th!!

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By gerard, July 3, 2010 at 12:34 pm Link to this comment

How come Democrats criticize Democrats both for being “too cool,” “lacking in conviction” and “too devoted to bipartisanship”?  On the other hand Republicans don’t critize Republicans; they criticize Democrats—and that for everything under the sun Democrats do or don’t do?

In such an atmosphere self-criticism doesn’t float any boats while those who are full of passionate intensity sail blindly out to sea.

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By altara, July 2, 2010 at 9:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm continues to impress, both with her record and her commentary. I join with others who regret that she is not eligible to be U.S. president, having been born in Canada.  If only she had been born in Kenya….


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By don knutsen, July 1, 2010 at 11:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

the comment by “the worm” pretty much nailed it. Amazingly none of the millionaires in the Congress are concerned with any of these problems most americans face. They are often on the receiving end now….were supposed to still buy into the notion that we have a representitive goverment. From the statements I hear when they are blathering they don’t even feel the need to pretend anymore that they have a job to do in our interests. What was it that Kissinger called us all, oh yeh…“Useless Eaters”.

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By Reverend Money, July 1, 2010 at 7:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If you reversed the numbers in the Senate and the Republicans had the majority the Democrats now have and a President in the White House they would be steamrolling over the Democrats.

I’ve given up on the Democrats. I loathe the Republicans but that’s not enough for me to support these wimpy spineless corporate owned and controlled Democrats any longer. Dionne thinks they should be talking up health care reform which fell so far short of what it could have/should have been that it is mainly a giveaway to the health industry corporations and financial reform which, again, fell far short of what it could have/should have been. That’s not going far with real Progressives. The Democrats suck! I bought into Obama’s line and he has turned out to be a third term for Bush on virtually every policy issue I despised Bush for.

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By samosamo, July 1, 2010 at 5:43 pm Link to this comment


Passion is a loser now, it is for those who think remaining civil
will get them the best of lost days long gone. This here and now
is about trying to keep control and being passionate to do it will
require a passion to kick the hell out those who deny the others
their ‘just due’. And both parties have shown abundant kinds of
ways that they are in charge and screw the rest.

So if anyone wants a passionate and civil return to the ‘old days’
I would rather think you should hope the changing climate or
more disasters, natural or manmade, to come along because this
country won’t change the direction it’s on until this country fails,
crashes, collapses or disappears.

Proof? Just look at everybody standing around and staring those
blank stares hoping those we elect or allow to control this
country may have a ‘change of heart’ and repent and put
everything back to normal, whatever in the fuck that is.

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By ocjim, July 1, 2010 at 4:41 pm Link to this comment

The fact is that Democrats need to do what is right and sell it, not what they think they can sell to a uninspired public.

If you want stupidity in the White House and Congress, run the same kind of defensive, wimpish, uninspired campaigns that Kerry ran.

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By Peetawonkus, July 1, 2010 at 4:07 pm Link to this comment

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

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Ed Harges's avatar

By Ed Harges, July 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm Link to this comment

E. J. Dionne, you really have some nerve.

You have done nothing but belittle Democrats and liberals
in general who show any passion, principle, or courage,
urging us to abandon earnest debate in deference to “unity”
and “discipline”.

On health care, you said:

“Nobody wants to admit that on health care the moderates won all the big
fights. Single-payer was out at the start. The public option died….”

And you lamented that we had wasted time trying to debate for something
better—indeed, your contempt for debate is worthy of Gee-Dubya Bush:

“While liberals were arguing about public plans and this or that,” you
sneered, “the conservatives relentlessly made a straightforward public

And you repeatedly use the word “moderate”  as a term of approval for those
Democrats who wisely avoid debating in earnest—that is, with PASSION—to
get a really good bill, instead of settling for something—anything at all—
that could be claimed superficially as a partisan victory.

You consistently show nothing but contempt for any sort of attempt to stand on
principle or to demonstrate statesmanship.

You are such a revolting hack, and now you have the gall to style yourself
the champion of passion!

Truthdig won that recent award not because of you, but in spite of you, Mr.

Here, gentle readers, is a prime example of Mr. Dionne’s nauseating cynicism
and contempt for principle, the very attitude that sucks the passion and
intellectual substance out of everything it touches:

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By G.Anderson, July 1, 2010 at 1:15 pm Link to this comment

Does the Democratic party really stand for anything anymore? They’ve done their best to bend over for the Republican’s..

Then, they expect that the people of this country are going to continue to take it, for the sake of the so called victims that the Dems hold dear to their hearts.

I wish the Democratic party would just disapear.

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By dihey, July 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm Link to this comment

As always Mr. Dionne tries to harvest from fallow fields. Let’s face it, if Mr. Kerry is an important “problem” for the Democrats they are lucky what with 10% unemployment, an unpopular war in Afghanistan/Pakistan, and the huge oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently Mr. Dionne is running out of topics that he dares to write about without losing his standing as the defender of almost every idiocy of the Obama administration.

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By samosamo, July 1, 2010 at 11:17 am Link to this comment



What a flip flopper kerry is. He wants a carbon bill but is
compromising at every turn which will leave what? Nada, zip,
nothing, zero.

Once again just political flagellation to score November points
when he should actually be kicked off the team, but it is
amazing what with the unfettered way of governing that either
repub or dems will do to sucker the dumbstream of america into
throwing their vote away, sort of like punting on 1st down when
you are on the opponent’s 10 yard line. Plenty of the
dumbstream will go for that.

And old joe double blow liarberman isn’t in the accompanying
picture for shits and giggles.

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By Hammond Eggs, July 1, 2010 at 10:18 am Link to this comment

The Democrats do have a passion.  It’s the same as the Republicans’: MONEY.

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By thebeerdoctor, July 1, 2010 at 8:59 am Link to this comment

Passion is a useful word in political theater. Courage, for the most part, is non existent. Drama becomes an excuse for actions without any results.

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By Inherit The Wind, July 1, 2010 at 8:22 am Link to this comment

It amazes me that for 30 years, no matter how much nuttier and right-wing the Republicans got, the Democrats were ALWAYS there to throw up a fat pitch to get knocked out of the park!

Einstein’s definition of insanity was to repeat something with no change and expect a different outcome.

One thing I respect about the GOP in Congress—they have discipline. You don’t see a Sen. Nelson or a Sen. Lieberman lousing up the party strategy and then getting coddled by the leadership: “Please, please, what can we do to get your vote?”

Instead we saw Barton get his ASS kicked by Boehner and Blunt, forced to back down and apologize with the CLEAR understanding that not to do so would cost him his most prized committee seat.  It’s not the context of the politics I admire—I detest it. It’s the excellent organization and ability to keep the members in line and on track, to unreservedly take a “maverick” to the wood-shed, to use carrot and stick without reserve.

Because the Democratic leadership won’t do this, little gets done and what little gets done is done badly.

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By rudyspeaks1, July 1, 2010 at 7:54 am Link to this comment

E.J.D. Jr. earns his money yet again, providing the MSM’s cover story for the
latest Democratic Party sell-out that evades the obvious systemic problem (that
the Dem’s are owned and work for the same corporate interests as the Repub’s)
and substitutes some half-plausible tripe (“lack of passion”... it’s always a freak
personality disorder). It’s “Ginger Rodgers Syndrome”. Ginger R. always did the
EXACT opposite of what Fred Astaire did; she moved forward as he moved back,
stepped back with her right foot when he stepped forward with his left foot…
but it was the same dance! Repub’s rally the Faithful Right, corporatists, bigots,
religious quacks, while the Dem’s provide an apparent, but fallacious and hence
non-threatening, alternative for the more clear-thinking population. The
Dem’s apparent fumbling… constantly… is what their sponsors pay them for.
The Riverboat USS America is rudderless and drifting towards the waterfall. If
you can’t think of any alternative to running from one side of the doomed boat
to the other (voting Dem or Repub) your fate is already sealed.

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By the worm, July 1, 2010 at 5:15 am Link to this comment

It’s not ‘passion’ the Democrats are lacking. It’s concern for the middle class.

Here are Obama and the Democrats’ actions over the last 20 months:

Here’s what we’ve seen so far from Obama:
1.Ignoring previous Republican crimes, misdemeanors and profligacy ?– e.g.
kidnapping, rendition, illegal wiretaps, torture, tax cuts for the wealthy. ??(Dawn
Johnsen, the recent Obama sacrifice, opposed Bush-era torture; she was not
among Obama’s recess appointments and just this week withdrew - continuing
the of Obama backing away from reversing any Bush civil rights positions)
2. Supporting a stingy stimulus that was half of what was needed and ?was one-
third tax breaks, not jobs.??
3. Accelerating the Bush bailout, $ 4.3 Trillions in bailouts, ?guarantees and
purchasing assets from the private sector at well above market ?value.
(Accelerating the shift of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy)
?4. Escalating a meaningless and fruitless war.? (McChrystal this week noted
‘We’ve killed so many innocent civilians’  Oh, please, during the months of
agonizing ‘analysis and reflection on the part of Obama and his Generals, no
one said ‘We’re entering an insurgency, fewer than a dozen of us speak the
language, fewer than that know anything about the culture,  we will be entering
directly into the homes, farms and villages of people, we will be heavily armed,
and we wont be able to tell friend from foe. What do you think the chances are
that we’ll be killing innocent civilians?’  Is it conceivable that no one consider
5. Gutting real financial reform and substituting finger wagging and silly ?taxes
and fees, while banking fees continue up, lending freezes, credit ?tightens,
banks profits escalate, ‘bonuses’ rise and too big to fail is the accepted game (
The financial institution’s “failure” simply means shifting more middle class
wealth to the financial industry to cover that ‘essential free market institution’
and besides “It was nobody’s fault; so why ‘be mad’ at the financial industry?
They were only following the laws they’d written.”?? Obama wants them to write
the reforms, too.)
6. Not helping people with bankruptcy and mortgages remediation. (Continuing
the shift of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy)
7. Fiddling around and not passing a jobs bill.? (And, now, holding up
unemployment compensation benefits - see 1-4 above for all the things that
are more important to Obama than helping the unemployed)
8. Rejecting the only option that would have extended coverage and cut costs
(single payer).(20% of the premiums you will be mandated to pay can - by law -
go to CEO bonuses, lobbying, campaign contributions to ‘sympathetic’
candidates, advertising, marketing and fighting your claims [in the federally
mandated dispute-resolution process - you will not be provided government
money to help present your side]. Obama didnt want to direct more money to
health care; he felt it wasnt worth the fight)?
9. Coming out for off-shore drilling
10. Failing to pass an unemployment insurance extension for the long-term

Sound like a problem with ‘passion’ or with mis-directed policies?

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By Ed Harges, July 1, 2010 at 5:15 am Link to this comment

Isn’t this the same E. J. Dionne who has scolded leftists here for
being too demanding, refusing to be what Tom Tomorrow
satirizes as “sensible liberals”?

E. J. Dionne, you are no one to preach the virtues of passion to
the left.

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By ardee, July 1, 2010 at 4:59 am Link to this comment

kerryrose, July 1 at 8:45 am #

“Democrats need to educate the voter as to the realities of climate change with passion.

Republicans are fueled by hate, cognitive scientist George Lakoff has insisted that Democrats have attempted to remain ‘reasonable’ and ‘tempered’ and have adopted the language of the right.  This puts them in a defensive posititon.”

I cannot help but think this a near miss interpretation of our current political climate. Both parties, whether elephant or jackass are motivated by the need to amass huge war chests to compete in elections. Thus , whether or not the language is right wing or not, the speeches are directed, not to deliniate positions , but to fool voters. The real messages are delivered to corporate fat cats behind closed doors.

That the GOP is using the far right as willing dupes, or that Democrats are moving towards the right as the GOP seems to be wandering even further right, is really not the point or the problem. Our govt doesnt serve we the people, it is at the beck and call of we the corporations.

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By kerryrose, July 1, 2010 at 4:45 am Link to this comment

Democrats need to educate the voter as to the realities of climate change with passion.

Republicans are fueled by hate, cognitive scientist George Lakoff has insisted that Democrats have attempted to remain ‘reasonable’ and ‘tempered’ and have adopted the language of the right.  This puts them in a defensive posititon.

Lakoff insists that Democrats need to find their own language of passion for justice, both human and environmental, and make the right respond to them.

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By Marc Schlee, July 1, 2010 at 4:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Didn’t he used to be famous?



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By eir, July 1, 2010 at 3:36 am Link to this comment

He was exposed as a passionate con man.

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